Overcoming hurt from a teenager you’ve “saved”

February 23rd, 2017

I answered your calls. Shared the good news about Jesus Christ with you. Shared my personal story. Opened my heart. Opened my home. Given my resources. And after all of that, how could you do THIS to me?

Sound familiar to anyone?

While this could sound like the sad love song you hear at night on the radio station (minus the sharing Christ), often it is the heart of the youth worker. Boundaries are important and we MUST ensure that we set clear and appropriate margins with the youth that we serve, but even when you’re within those boundaries, hurt can occur and your heart can share these words…”I answered your calls. Shared the good news about Jesus Christ with you. Shared my personal story. Opened my heart. Opened my home. And after all of that, how could you do THIS to me?”

Many have heard the saying “hurt people, hurt people” and I’ve come to the conclusion that “hurting teens, hurt help.”

“What about when it’s a mature teen or the one who has their lives together? Can’t I expect more from them?” While yes, some may seem to have it together more than others, they are only as mature as their life experience and even then, they won’t understand how all of “it” will play out in their adult lives until years later.

Here’s something we know for sure, even with the most “mature teenager,” teens don’t fully grasp the concept of personal sacrifice, time and resources. This is why we can get a 911 text from a teenager 10 minutes before youth group starts saying “I really need to be picked up for church tonight. And I have rehearsal afterwards so I gotta be there. Can you stop by and get me?” At no point are they thinking about the fact that you’ve had to go to work today, get off and prepare for youth group, stop by 2 stores for supplies, only to rush and arrive 30 minutes early so that you can set up the room for 25 teenagers. And yes, they expect for their “need” to be a priority. They expect you to drop what you’re doing and come to their rescue.

Why? Because you care. Because you’ve shown up time and time again. Because you love them. Even when teenagers acknowledge everything you do for them and even when they love you back (at least at the greatest capacity they can love), that will NOT stop them from hurting you, lying to and on you, and/or totally abandoning or rejecting you.

I remember I worked closely with a small group of girls early on in ministry.

I adored these young ladies and would have put my entire house on the line for them (clearly I had serious boundary issues). I can vividly recall one night where one of my girls called me around 3 am. She was angry and crying. She begged me to come and pick her up because her mom was physically abusing her, as well as calling her names and threatening to kick her out of her home. My immediate response was to jump out of bed. I have to hurry and “save” her from this crazy mom of hers.

The commute to her home would have been 50 minutes so I figured I’d call my dad (an OG in youth ministry) and talk to him while on my way since he’s never asleep. Before I pulled out of my driveway he said, “Michelle, get back in your bed. Call her mother in the morning and set up a time for the three of you to talk. IF that is true, she will not die tonight. That problem will be there in the morning.” In that moment he sounded so harsh and heartless. I don’t even know why I listened, but I did.

The next day I woke up angry with her mother, but I called her anyway. Long story short, she met a boy at one of our programs and had been sneaking out to meet him. Her mother found out and took her phone as well as canceling her birthday plans. She was angry and decided she’d use me to help her escape. She didn’t give a thought to what this would do to my reputation driving to her mother’s home at 4 am. She didn’t give a thought to how I would feel that she exploited my care for her safety. Simply put, in that moment she was selfish and at the end of it I was hurt and felt so foolish.

Skipping down years later to a more mature Michelle…

I meet a girl who is full of potential. She’s rough and may even come off disrespectful, but she’s finding her way and still trying to feel out this who Jesus thing. I don’t expect people, let alone children, to transform their lives and behaviors the day they accept Christ, so I had no expectation for her to have it all together. I enjoyed getting to know her story, motivating her to do more and reminding her of her purpose. She seemed to love being around myself and the other youth leaders all the time. Then one day something happened.

She began to be blatantly disrespectful. She started coming to youth group minutes before it was over. She was cursing and name calling to the other newer youth leaders and undeniably difficult to be around. Yet, I loved her. Plus she wasn’t so bad to me. I corrected the behaviors as they surfaced, and even in the midst, I kept pushing her towards purpose. I’m still not certain what happened in her life, as I asked many times, but shortly after that, she stop coming to youth group altogether. She began calling my phone and hanging up. She had several people calling my phone, cursing at me, threatening me and my family and more. I wasn’t hurt, I was ANGRY! I did not like this kid anymore. Not a “she’s aggravating” type of moment because let’s admit, some teens are just aggravating to us. This was a true dislike. One I shouldn’t hold for anyone, but if I did, it should have at least been reserved for adults. LOL.

A year later she came back around like nothing had ever happened. She wanted to be a part of our programs again. My answer? “NO!” In my mind, I was thinking, “have you lost your mind? Do you remember the hell you gave our team? The division you caused in the youth group? The terrible things you did to me, the person that helped you the most?” But God (and my wise ol’ father) had to check me. Had I forgotten just what I mess I was? How I act even after I KNEW the sacrifice Christ had made for me? It wasn’t simple or without headache, but she was welcomed back into the youth group and went on to graduate and do great things.

The focus of those stories is never the children, but really my feelings.

Our feelings. If we’re honest, our feelings take center stage when we’re hurt or offended. We ultimately just want the teens and anyone we love and care about to know “I have feelings. Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings.”

[bctt tweet=”We have an entire team built around teenagers who are hurting but who helps the hurting youth leader?” username=”ys_scoop”]

This is a question that may cross your mind at some point in youth ministry. And the truth is that we have the ultimate help. The one who has called us to the gift of youth ministry. The one who’s given us the gift of empathy. The one who allows us to see the finish line of the teenager you’re pouring into and to walk the purpose journey with them. He, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is there to help us in those moments and even to coach us through them.

Still, why do they do it?   

Well, besides the fact that they’re teenagers, studies have actually shown that the frontal lobe of the teenager’s brain is not fully developed. The frontal lobe has been connected to the ability to control emotions and impulses, which could in turn lead to poor control over behavior and emotions. The frontal lobes are also thought to be the place where decisions about right and wrong, as well as cause-effect relationships are processed. Not sure if knowing this helps, but at least you can point it back to something that sort of makes sense.

But more importantly than the “why or how they could do it?” is how you respond.

If we’re all in this for Jesus, we should do our best to approach hurt and offense with the example he’s given to us. Hebrews (2:18, 4:8) tells us that we have a high priest who’s able to empathize with our weaknesses, one who was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet did not sin. And because He has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested.

IF we truly understand sin (and the impact it has even in our own lives) and pair it with what we know about teenagers, maybe we should anticipate these type of failures.

One of Jesus closest mentees not only turned his back on Him but also denied even being associated with him. Luke 22:61 says, “At this, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter recalled the statement of the Lord when he had said to him: ‘Before a rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’” Picture you’re on the scene when this takes place. What do you think Jesus face said to Peter? If His eyes could speak, what story would they have told? I imagine His look said, “Even when I knew you’d betray me, I still loved you. I still believe in you. You will be better because of this.” Is it possible for us to look into the eyes of a teen that has hurt us and for them to see love? Would they hear grace? Would they feel mercy?

And maybe it’s not as deep as them hurting your feelings from their mindless actions.

Maybe it’s as simple (yet detrimental) as them “seemingly” throwing away their future and all the hard work you did to help them pass that class, get through their parents’ divorce, get into college only for them to flunk out, to struggle with drug abuse, to get pregnant or the countless other things teens might do. Those are real hurts and pains that we deal with within youth ministry.

Well, I want to encourage you to keep going. Forgive that teenager. Allow God to heal your heart. And then, gear up for the next challenge. Remind yourself through your prayer time just how MUCH you need God and then we can respond easier to those who have the same need. Through the studying of His word, come to grips with the job responsibilities of the Holy Spirit and how He’s always exceeded in those areas. It’s then that we can easily remember that we are not Him. It’s not our job (nor do we have the ability) to “save” anyone, not even when they’re looking to us to do so.

In this sanctification process (we are being saved) you will certainly get it wrong, but until we hit glorification (we will be saved) we are on an even playing field, even with the teens we serve.

God bless and I love you! Takes a lot of special sauce to be you and you’re doing a great job at it. Keep it up!

Michelle Reynolds is the Executive Director of Every Kid Outreach (EKO), a non-profit ministry devoted to empowering teenagers to reach their brightest future. She has been involved in responding to the challenges faced by youth in underserved communities around Central Florida since 2003. Michelle also services as Director of Children & Youth Ministries at Redeeming Light Center Church. Michelle and her husband, Pastor Jermaine Reynolds, have one son, Jermaine II. You can connect with her via Facebook.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.